Clearly, I have hit the Historical Fiction jackpot. My go-to favorite Historical Fiction authors thus far have been Margaret George and Philippa Gregory. But then, I discovered Phyllis T. Smith (love her!) and now Allison Pataki (love her too!)
Biblical History, The Tudor Era and Ancient Rome are my absolute favorite periods in history to study. So, I confess, I was unaware of who Empress Elizabeth of Austria was. (I know, I know. I shall hang my head in shame.) So, before I began the book, I decided to study her a bit. I read up on her life, her family, why she was so popular and what made her so memorable. And I immediately became enamored with her. (I love to learn about strong women!) By the time I dug into the book, I was so excited to get to know Empress “Sisi” Elizabeth. She had such a profound impact on the world around her and history as we know it.
**Unless you have read up on Empress Elizabeth and her life, then this review will contain spoilers for you. I suggest checking out this site and then coming back.
First of all, the cover! Ridiculously pretty. Secondly, the author did an amazing job at bringing historically accurate details to the book. I learned so much about this time period, thanks to her diligent research and obvious passion for this story.
Allison Pataki wastes no time in introducing you to Sisi and what makes her tick. The more I read, the more I realized that Sisi and I would have been fast friends, had we known each other. She was restless, and longed for freedom and wide open spaces. She was rebellious, but tried to keep it under wraps. She was fiercely protective of her children. She did not like all of the demands that court life placed on her; did not relish having to put on a fake smile for whomever she and her husband were entertaining. She balked at the strict rules and protocol that she had to follow, and even became ill when plagued by her anxieties for too long. She loved history (be still my heart), and even stayed up reading and writing most nights, when she should have been sleeping.
Empress Elizabeth was married to Emperor Franz Joseph, who was reportedly madly in love with his wife. From what it sounds like, Empress Elizabeth returned his love in the beginning of their marriage, but the two grew apart as the years progressed. Allison Pataki does an excellent job at exploring their complicated relationship, and the feelings that each had for each other as time went along. The author also does a beautiful job at introducing two new men in Sisi’s life. I found myself rooting for both of these men at different points, and wishing that Sisi would voice the thoughts in her head towards the two of them.
Towards the end of the book, I actually found myself rooting for her husband, Franz. I wanted them to reconcile and finally enjoy what both of them had actually wanted from each other for many years. And towards the end of the book, it looked like that was going to happen. But then…spoiler alert…Sisi’s life comes to an abrupt and heartbreaking end. Which, by the way, the author expertly handled. Throughout the book, there are little sections in-between chapters, that are written from the assassin’s point of view. What his plans are, how he plans to carry things out, and what he thinks and feels when he sees Empress Elizabeth. The result is that the reader feels a sense of dread as the story goes along, a sense of finality and the unfairness of it all. When Sisi stepped into the bright sunshine on that fateful morning, I knew what was coming, because I had been given a glimpse inside her assassin’s head. (I was literally bummed when she died. Mama’s taking a day off today, kids! #deathinthefamily)
I was pleasantly surprised with how the author handled Sisi’s passing. Very pleasantly surprised, actually. I won’t spoil that part for you. You’ll have to find out for yourself. But trust me, you’ll be smiling.
Bottom Line: Not a history nerd? You’re about to be.
**Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for the honor and the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review